A new Letting Agent Code of Practice began on 31 January 2018.
This is a set of rules that all letting agents must follow to make sure they give a good service to landlords and tenants.
The Code explains the minimum standards a letting agent must meet when:
- dealing with landlords
- marketing and advertising a property
- managing a let
- collecting rent
- handling repairs
- ending a tenancy
If you're a landlord the Code will help you understand what you should expect when you're using a letting agent. It will also help you challenge them if you don't think they're meeting the standards in the Code.
Register of Letting Agents
Everyone carrying out letting agency work needs to join the Register of Letting Agents by 1 October 2018 if they want to continue doing it. The register is run by the Scottish Government.
From 1 October 2018 it will be against the law for a business to carry out letting agency work without having applied for registration.
Before they can add them to the register, Scottish Ministers will have to decide whether the people in charge of a business applying to the register are 'fit and proper' persons to carry out letting agency work. Certain key people working in the business also need to have had a minimum standard of training.
To decide if someone is a 'fit and proper' person, Scottish Ministers will consider a range of information about that person including whether they have been convicted of offences involving fraud, violence, drugs, firearms, sexual offence or broken housing law.
Once the register is fully up and running, you will be able to check whether the letting agent you use (or are thinking of using) is allowed to carry out letting agency work.
If they're a registered letting agent, they'll have a unique letting agent registration number that they must put on all their communications and advertising. You'll use this number to check whether they're registered.
If you have a problem with your letting agent
If you're a landlord and you have a letting agent managing your property, there are a number of things you can do if you aren't happy with their work.
Check your contract
The first thing you should do is look at the 'terms of business' or business contract you have with your letting agent.
This should give details of the agreement you made with your agent on how they'll manage your property.
It will explain the services the agent will carry out for you, as well as how much authority they have to act on your behalf without checking with you first.
If there's a certain part of your letting agent's services you're unhappy with, you may want to ask them for their policy or procedure for that specific service.
Check the Code of Practice
Your letting agent has to follow the Letting Agent Code of Practice from 31 January 2018.
If you aren't happy with the way they're carrying out certain work on your behalf, check what the Code of Practice says about that service.
If your agent has failed to do what the Code of Practice says is required of them, you can make a formal complaint.
Make a formal complaint
You can make a formal complaint to your letting agent if you believe they've failed to either:
- do what they agreed to in their 'terms of business' or business contract, or
- follow the rules of the Letting Agent Code of Practice
The Code of Practice says that all agents must have a written complaints procedure. If you don't know your agent's procedure, they should be able to give you it.
Your complaint should be in writing, and you will need to give the agent a reasonable amount of time to respond.
If your letting agent belongs to a professional organisation or redress scheme (dispute resolution service), you may want to make a complaint to them instead.
Apply to a housing tribunal
If you think your letting agent has broken the rules of the Code of Practice and you can't resolve the problem with them (or they don't respond within a reasonable time), you can take your complaint further.
You can do this by making an application to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber).
The Tribunal is a legal body that looks at disputes between landlords and tenants when a lettings agent doesn't meet the standards of the Code of Practice. More information on applying to the Housing and Property Chamber is available on the Tribunal website.
Letting agents must have applied to join the Register by 1 October 2018 to continue to operate. They still have to follow the Code of Practice from 31 January 2018 though, so you can still take a case to the tribunal even if they aren't registered yet.
There's no fee to make an application to the Tribunal. The Tribunal will be informal and the proceedings will be flexible to help resolve issues.
You don't need a lawyer to represent you – you can do it yourself, or use an advocate or other person to help you. You can also bring along someone to act as a supporter for you – they can, for example, give you moral support, take notes for you or help manage your documents.
If the Tribunal agrees with your complaint, they can issue a 'letting agent enforcement order'. This instructs the letting agent to carry out a set of steps to fix the problem and make sure they're following the Code.
It's against the law for a letting agent to not follow the instructions of an enforcement order. They can be prosecuted if they ignore it.
The Tribunal will also let Scottish Ministers know if the letting agent hasn't carried out the order. The agent could be banned from doing any more letting agency work.
Get more information on the Register of Letting Agents and the Code of Practice.